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'Big-hearted, earthy and funny... A rattlingly good story' Deborah Moggach, The Best Exotic Marigold HotelWhen Nikki takes a creative writing job at her local temple, with visions of emancipating the women of the community she left behind as a self-important teenager, she's shocked to discover a group of barely literate women who have no interest in her ideals.
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Book DetailsISBN: 9780008209919
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Book Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal - Reviewed by CloggieA (17 Apr 2018)
5 stars “It would be easier to be a criminal fairly prosecuted by the law than an Indian daughter who wronged her family. A crime would be punishable by a jail sentence of definite duration rather than this uncertain length of family guilt trips.”
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is the third novel by Singapore-born author, Balli Kaur Jaswal. Twenty-two-tear-old Nikki Grewal has found a job teaching creative writing to Punjabi women for the Sikh Community Association at the Southall Temple. This is a welcome development in her life as, with half a law degree and a job in a pub that looks less that permanent, she can do with another source of income. And facilitating these ladies in finding their creative voices speaks to her sense of promoting women’s rights.
But the woman who employed her, Kulwinder Kaur has perhaps been less than honest: it turns out that most of these women can’t read or write at all, Punjabi or English. When her basic lessons apparently bore the widows, they begin telling stories they know, have heard or made up. And not just innocent little tales, but erotic stories, just about the very last thing Nikki would have expected from the mouths of these respectable ladies. One of their number is literate enough to be their scribe: could their tales be published?
As Nikki becomes more familiar with her students, she realises that despite their candid talk, there is something they are not revealing. It has to do with a young woman whose death, fourteen years earlier, is still a mystery. Or is it really? As Nikki gains her students’ trust, she learns of another death, labelled accidental, and then the recent purported suicide of Kulwinder’s daughter, Maya.
One of her widows says: “All those people who say, ‘Take no notice of those widows. Without their husbands, they’re irrelevant.’ We’d be invisible in India; I suppose it makes no difference that we’re in England.” But news of the classes spreads among the women in the community and far beyond, and more students join the group; Nikki worries that the real content of their writing will attract the wrong sort of attention.
Jaswal’s novel explores many topical subjects for Indians living in Britain: parental pressure regards career or marriage partner; the vital importance of status and reputation in this community; and the powerlessness of women in the community are but some of these. She describes a culture that, in twenty-first century London, still condones or even promotes arranged marriages, bounty hunters and honour killings; a culture that is slow to react to modern times and difficult to change while is it perpetuated by the men in power and by some of the older, uneducated and often illiterate women.
While these are serious topics, Jaswal also gives the reader plenty of humour, much of it quite black, charming characters, natural dialogue and a rather exciting climax. As for the sexy little stories, they can easily be skipped if mild erotica is not to the reader’s taste, without affecting the flow of the main story. Funny, moving and thought-provoking, this is a great read!
Balli Kaur Jaswal was born in Singapore and has lived all around the world, including Australia, Japan, Russia, the Philippines, Turkey, the US and the UK, where she was a writer in residence at UEA. Her novel, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, was inspired by the time she spent in Southall. She now lives in Singapore.
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